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The new Birmingham City Council site: a step back for the city’s digital ambitions?

08/09/2009

After months of delays and huge cost over-runs, the Birmingham City Council website finally launched. The costs have already been the subject of much discussion and a view of the site quickly saw the debate continue online. The feedback has certainly been negative and justifiably so.

The site reputedly cost £2.8 million, four times its original budget. This is a staggering sum to pay for a website and what’s been launched represents incredibly poor value for taxpayers’ money. Exactly how the site budget escalated is a matter of conjecture and speculation. Comments on the Post’s site from agency heads echo this view and clearly the Council need to provide some answers especially as its partnership with Capita is supposed to save money.

There are several issues that I’ve got with the site. Firstly, how many contractors contributed to this mess? The phrase “too many cooks” springs to mind…More importantly who actually controlled this? What accountability is there for this disaster? Why the project creep and how much of this could have been avoided had the right partners been chosen in the first place?

The most frustrating part is that on the one had the City Council, AWM and others want to develop the regions’ creative offering. The City is encouraging digital and talking up the region’s ability to lead the economic recovery through a thriving, innovative digital industries. And then they release this nonsense that does nothing to help the credibility of these ambitions.

The Council’s response was that the site is for the residents and not the Twitterati. That comment alone shows the sheer lack of understanding of digital in general and social media in particular. Most of those commenting were residents, business owners or people working in the City. Twitter enabled us to discuss this, for people to air their views. Prior to the Internet, a story like this would have resulted in a pile of letters to the local newspaper. Now people can discuss and debate via a range of sites, blogs and of course Twitter.

Sorry BCC but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t embrace digital on the one hand and then complain when you don’t like what’s being said via digital channels. The site is poor and there’s no way it represents value for money. So rather than criticize people why not provide some answers to the concerns and comments? After all, many of us involved in the industry still can’t get our heads around the cost. Exactly where did the £2.8 million go?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan permalink
    10/09/2009 7:58 am

    First impression of the site (only two clicks in), I could of created that using Dreamweaver while sitting in my bedroom in my pants!

    It’s poor to say the least.

  2. Mike permalink
    10/09/2009 3:48 pm

    I’m staggered that £2.8m can buy so little – and what little it has bought is very poor indeed. With the recent furore over MP’s expenses and the outrage that was caused over mishandling of public money, one can only assume that heads will roll for spending that ridiculous amount of money.

  3. Rik Pipe permalink
    02/11/2009 11:33 pm

    I opened the site in Firefox and found a text only version of the site. Safari was little better and ie finally gave me what I assume was the intended version, but still not great.

    I assume the money has gone into the back end systems that support the site, but I suspect BCC has been yet another victim of cynical and greedy software suppliers who enter a contract fully expecting to be poorly managed and consequently be given many opportunies to rack up thier charges once the project is well beyond the point of no return.

    All the problems are carbon based – not software failures. The public sector in particular needs to be given help in how to hire and manage the best suppliers and in particular how to throttle the scope creeps who rob us all by ripping off unsophisticated buyers.

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